January 2012 is set to go down in the history books as a turning point in the battle to keep oil supertankers out of B.C.’s inside coastal waters.

It started on Monday January 9 when Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver released an unprecedented open letter on the eve of public hearings for Enbridge’s tanker and pipeline proposal to B.C.’s West Coast.

In that letter, Oliver wrote that “environmentalists and other radical groups” are using “foreign money” to “hijack” the public hearings and threatened to streamline the regulatory process.

It didn’t matter to Oliver that 99 per cent of the 4,000 plus participants are everyday Canadians. It didn’t matter that 10 foreign oil companies are registered interveners for the public hearings. And it didn’t matter that $20 billion of foreign money was poured into the oil sands between 2007 and 2010. No, the only thing that mattered was that regular folks had signed up to participate in a public process (how dare they?) and that public interest groups like Dogwood had helped them do so.

What happened next even we couldn’t have predicted. As enormous media interest turned our way, it became apparent that the backlash to Oliver’s comments was quickly becoming the national zeitgeist. Within 48 hours we sent a message to our supporters asking them to turn their outrage into action by getting five new people to sign our No Tankers petition. That day, we hit an all-time traffic record on our website and by the end of day we had nearly 10,000 new petition signatures.

Canadians of all stripes were unimpressed by Oliver’s rant. This comment was made by Linda from Gabriola Island as she signed the petition:

“I have been a conservative supporter. And you, Mr. Harper have accomplished some really good things. But this response by you and your government is an insult … this is a democracy. I have a right to my opinion and not to have it trashed in such a disrespectful manner. Please stop your very aggressive attitude to ordinary citizens who love their country.”

Next, the donations started to roll in. Daniel Terry, owner of Denman Island Chocolates, was so outraged by Oliver’s “foreign money” hypocrisy that he went online and donated $7,400 to Dogwood. To our delight, more cheques started arriving in the mail with messages like “Say thank you to Mr. Oliver.”

We quickly switched from defence to offence and the media calls kept rolling in. When the  Ethical Oil, an oil industry front group with close ties to the federal government, started attacking us in this blog, it was just more fuel to throw on the fire.  The bogus group (which, ironically, won’t say where it’s funding comes from) thinks it’s horrifying that Dogwood facilitated the registration of 40 per cent of participants in the public hearings – we think it speaks volumes about how much our supporters in British Columbia care about decisions about their air, land and water.

As it turned out, most of the nation’s columnists agreed with us. From the Globe & Mail to the Toronto Star and Victoria Times Colonist, the pundits tore a strip off Oliver for launching a smear campaign against reasonable Canadians with reasonable concerns.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper must have forgotten to read the newspapers that week because in an interview aired on The National on Jan. 16, he reiterated Oliver’s comments. Lo and behold, the next morning we got a call from The National and that evening the newscast’s top story was how Harper’s comments had backfired, leading to more than 20,000 new signatures on our petition.

Just as it appeared the storm was over, U.S. President Barack Obama announced his rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline that would have transported oilsands bitumen to the Gulf Coast. We were quick to point to the power of the people of Nebraska – ranchers, farmers, Republican senators – and draw comparisons to British Columbia, where a folkstorm is brewing among citizens of all walks of life.

Combine that folkstorm with the indomitable First Nations opposition and the rhetoric coming out of Ottawa these days and the Enbridge battle is going to make the Keystone XL showdown look like a teddy bear’s picnic.

Still, there’s much work to be done. Susan Riley said it best in her Ottawa Citizen column: “Pipeline opponents will win only if Canadians, en masse, rally to defend their beautiful, blessed country – rather than stepping politely aside while it is plundered again for short-term gain.”